Friday, October 8, 2010

Career and Economic Opportunity in Open Source Software

As part of the open source track at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) this year, there was an informative session on career and economic opportunity in Open Source Software (OSS).

The session served two main purposes -
a) to show that participating in open source projects can provide many skills that can be relevant in obtaining a job and building a career, and,
b) that open source does not necessarily mean free software and therefore, there are multiple ways in which to make a living from OSS.

I've provided a summary/transcript of the discussion in this session on the GHC 2010 Wiki, so below I list some of the key takeaways for me.

a) Building Job and Career Skills from OSS projects
1. Online and multi-site, multi-timezone collaboration and communication is perhaps one of the best skills you can pick up from an OSS project. Interacting with people of different cultures and in different physical locations can prepare you to handle multi-site activities that occur in many large companies today.

In my own experience, I find that being able to interact effectively with a geographically dispersed and culturally diverse team is an increasingly important skill in our globalized world. These kind of soft skills set you apart from those who have equivalent technical expertise.

2. OSS is a great way to slowly build up skills, be it programming, organizational etc. and be able to get feedback (it helps to develop a thick skin :)

I think this is something I will keep in mind when I think I need to build expand my technical skill set.

3. Flexible timings can provide women with the work/life balance that they might be looking for.

OSS might be a great way to keep in touch with the industry and keep your skills and experience up to date while taking a hiatus (like maternity leave)

b) OSS Business
1. Making money from OSS projects is not a bad thing, and shouldn't be seen as such. Indeed, many OSS projects become richer (in quality, and in participation) for having had a few high profile customers that were willing to pay for custom development

2. Providing complementary software, services and support is a widespread revenue model adopted by many companies that leverage OSS

In general, I was inspired to see such names as Cat Allman, Leslie Hawthorn, Stormy Peters and Margo Seltzer participating in the open source track and it served to reinforce the quality of the content that GHC offered this year.

Cross-posted to the Grace Hopper Blog